Denius-Sams Gaming Academy

Students play “The Calm Before” at a release party hosted by The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy in the Moody College of Communication. “The Calm Before”, a first-person shooter computer game, was created by a team of 20 video game students from across the country.
Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

The one-year-old Denius-Sams Gaming Academy in the Moody College of Communication released its first video game Friday.

The academy, composed of 20 video game students from across the country, hosted a release party during which attendees could play the game “The Calm Before.” The game took nearly seven months to develop, according to academy participant Zachary Lubell.

“The Calm Before” is a first-person shooter computer game inspired by the games “The Legend of Zelda” and “Deus Ex,” according to the game’s website. Players must fight beasts and solve puzzles to save an island from an impending storm. 

Academy students pose with Roderick Hart, dean of the Moody College of Communication. Chris Foxx | The Daily Texan

The academy focuses on teaching leadership and management skills within the video game industry because the participants already understand the basics of development, according to program coordinator Joshua Howard.

“The participants experienced going through the process of concept and pre-production green light, presenting to potential clients or a board of directors, then journeying though the different phases of game production, all while building an actual product for release,” Howard said. 

Howard said graduates of the academy will have an advantage over video game developers who follow traditional career paths.

“Having the simulation of a working studio allows us to pull the participants out of difficult situations as they are happening [and] then examine the circumstances, repercussions and solutions from both the inside out to see what they can learn from it,” Howard said. “The results leads to graduates of the program having knowledge and experiences that it would take years to develop in a traditional career path.”

Lubell said presenting the game in March at the Game Developers Conference, the largest event for video game developers, proved to be the toughest challenge in the development process.

“We had to make some really tough decisions in that very short window to prepare and to polish and to do all sorts of things that we would not have traditionally done during the middle of development just to prepare for [Game Developers Conference],” Lubell said.

A student plays "The Calm Before." Chris Foxx | The Daily Texan

Gerard Manzanares, an employee at Cloud Imperium Games, said “The Calm Before” has some impressive qualities but could use additional features that would help improve its overall quality.

“The art style and environment is great, and there was no lag at all,” Manzanares said. “[The game] has a good basis but needs something more like a compass, or objective marker, or any type of direction.”

“The Calm Before” is free to download on the game’s website, www.thecalmbeforegame.com

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy, UT’s first post-baccalaureate game development program, began accepting applications last week.

The gaming academy is a 12-month program intended for students who have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree and have substantial experience in game design. The 20 students selected will receive tuition waivers and $10,000 stipends.

The program is a collaborative effort between the Moody College of Communication, the department of computer science and the College of Fine Arts, and offers students the opportunity to supplement their degrees with certificates.

Students can expect an advanced curriculum based on game development and leadership within a game design team. The skill set acquired during the program will allow students to feel the impact of their work on the real world, program director Warren Spector said.

According to Spector, the program will allow students to create and design a video game, as well as interact extensively with faculty and consult a development council of local and outside experts.

“We’ve really put together a hell of a group,” Spector said.

The academy’s application period closes April 15, 2014.

UT has partnered with leaders in the video game industry to start a graduate-level video game academy that will open in the fall of 2014 at the University.

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy is being developed and led by industry veteran Warren Spector and Paul Sams, the chief operating officer of Blizzard Entertainment. Unlike other gaming institutions around the world, the UT program will offer a focus on leadership as opposed to just programming and design, Spector said.

“This is not like other programs. We’re trying to position it a little differently. What’s been lacking is a focus on creative and business leadership. There really aren’t any places that teach you how to be a game director or a producer.”  Spector said. “That understanding of art and commerce is something that I don’t think that a lot programs do very well. It is in the tension between those that great games are made.”

With Austin being one of the country’s largest contributors to the video game industry and home to several game studios, Spector said industry leaders have long felt the University needed to have a gaming program. With game development programs appearing at institutions around the world, Spector said the University wanted to build a graduate-level academy that would benefit from the input of industry leaders. After funding was secured from the Cain Foundation and the Sams family, the academy became a reality.

“We wanted to make sure that what we offered would be different. Our focus is on the collective skills that you need,” said Mike Wilson, director of the College of Communication Office of Development. “It’s a very unique program. It’s one that we think fills a void.”

After a highly competitive admissions process, the academy will accept 20 individuals each year who already possess skills in video game design and production and may already have experience in the industry. The University will pay for their tuition and give them a $10,000 stipend. They will participate in a 12-month program where they will learn to take a concept from the drawing board to the market. 

The program will be centered in the Radio-Television-Film Department in the College of Communication. However the College of Fine Arts and the Department of Computer Science will also significantly contribute to the program.

“It is going to be a cross-discipline effort,” Spector said. “Video games represent the most collaborative medium and the one that takes advantage of more disciplines than any other.”

Spector, who received his masters from UT and has worked as a producer on several video game series in his career, said he believes the program will offer students a chance get ahead in the industry faster.

“I am assuming that people are going to come in with exceptional skills and a desire to take the next step,” Spector said. “There is a dues paying period that you have to go through [in the industry]. What this program is going to do is to take people who aspire to leadership positions and shorten their dues paying period.”

The academy is not UT’s first venture into video games. There is currently an undergraduate program offered at the University called the Game Development Program.

The academy will soon begin a national search for a program director. Spector will continue to serve as a co-chair on the board of advisors and plans on teaching some classes at the academy.

Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.